Stamford Advocate (Sunday)
Hitting it off
Hintzen, Hitt have bonded as Double-A teammates
Robbie Hitt has heard it plenty of times from people over the years: Must be tough to be a pitcher with the last name of Hitt?
“I have to remind them: Who holds the batting average title at Suffield High?,’” Hitt noted.
Indeed, Hitt not only holds Suffield’s batting average record (.500), but records for wins, ERA and strikeouts as a pitcher, as well.
He switched solely to pitching in his three seasons at Quinnipiac, and while his career numbers with the Bobcats weren’t overwhelming (10-13, 5.17 ERA), he showed enough to be a 24th-round draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017.
It was in Hitt’s second season in the Brewers’ organization in 2018 that he first befriended Connecticut product J.T. Hintzen. The two never knew each other while Hitt was hitting and pitching at Suffield and Hintzen was starring at Greenwich High. But after Hintzen was selected in the 10th round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Brewers, the two were teammates for the summer at Class-A Wisconsin.
They were teammates (and bullpen mates) again in 2019 at High-A Carolina, golfing buddies last summer when the minor-league season was canceled, and are together again this summer with Double-A Biloxi.
In fact, they share not only the same uniform and bullpen but the same house — a small place in Biloxi they’re renting with two other teammates. Hitt and Hintzen are also roommates on road trips.
“He’s one of my best friends,” Hintzen reported. “We spend a lot of time together.”
Both are having solid seasons for the Shuckers.
Hitt, 26, is 2-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 relief outings, mostly as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy. Opponents are hitting just .214 off the 6-foot-2 righthander.
“I’m happy with the way things are going,” Hitt said. “I got off to a bad start the first month, missed a couple of weeks of spring training with COVID protocols.”
But after that shaky start, Hitt was dominant in June, not allowing a single run in eight outings (9 1⁄3 innings). He’s been solid ever since, as well.
Hintzen, 25, is 3-1 with a 4.57 ERA in 26 outings out of the Shuckers’ ‘pen, mostly as a long reliever. He’d like his ERA to be a bit lower and has been victimized by the home run ball (10 in 41 1⁄3 innings), but overall is satisfied with his first season in Double-A.
“It’s definitely been a lot more challenging than Low-A,” Hintzen noted.
“The hitters are a lot better. I have to be a little more refined in my game in order to get guys out, that’s for sure. I love the fields, the teams and everything. It’s definitely a step up, as far as facilities and everyday life.”
Hintzen is used to the long reliever’s role. As a senior at Division 2 Florida Southern, he went a sparkling 14-0 with a 1.96 ERA — almost entirely out of the bullpen.
He also has what he feels could be an ace in the hole: A knuckleball. Hintzen first learned it at a young age, didn’t really throw it in high school or college but dusted it off two years ago at Carolina. He doesn’t throw it often — maybe once or twice an inning — but just having it in his arsenal can be an effective weapon.
“It’s worked to my advantage, I think,” he said. “People don’t expect a knuckleball, really at all, in professional baseball these days. And to experience one that might come sometimes, versus my slider, cutter, change-up and fastball, (hitters) have a lot of ground to cover in terms of pitches they might see coming.”
It’s also something that could extend his career, since it’s a pitch few others have mastered.
“I feel like, if I was ever under the gun with the organization, they might be like, ‘Well, let’s see what happens if he throws 80-90 percent knuckleballs, or something like that. We might be able to give him a second chance.’”
Hitt is one of several Quinnipiac products currently playing in minorleague ball. Thomas Jankins, a 2016 Quinnipiac grad, is also with the Brewers’ organization, currently starting with Triple-A Nashville (2-6, 6.85 ERA). Shelton’s Matt Batten, like Hitt a 2017 draft pick (32nd round), is with the Padres’ Triple-A team in El Paso, hitting a solid .279 with 16 stolen bases.
Hitt frequently works out with more aptly-named Batten during the offseason.
Meanwhile, Quinnipiac’s Colton Bender was selected in the 10th round by the Padres in the 2021 MLB Draft. The Lebanon product, a catcher, is off to a strong start, hitting .391 with a homer and four RBI in seven games between two affiliates and already earning a promotion to Class-A Lake Elsinore.
“It’s come a long way,” Hitt said of the Quinnipiac program. “They won the conference (in 2019) and have a lot of good talent.”
Hitt hopes to keep limiting opponents’ hits and making his way up the ranks of the Brewers’ organization — perhaps with his good friend J.T. Hintzen right alongside.
SAIL ON, SAILORS
The West Haven Sailors made a rather ceremonious entrance into the Connecticut College Baseball League this summer.
The expansion Sailors won the league championship, beating the Manchester Mavericks in consecutive games on July 31.
West Haven, coming out of the championship tournament’s loser’s bracket, beat Manchester 2-0 in the first game behind the pitching of Jafar Vohra. In the second game, a Rob Olah grand slam in the bottom of the first set the tone for a 7-1 Sailors victory.
West Haven finished 14-9-3 overall in the 10-team league, which features nine Connecticut-based teams and another from Western Massachusetts. Olah, a Trumbull product who plays at Post University, led the Sailors with a .411 average while belting six doubles and four home runs. Harrison Feinberg of Greenwich, who is heading out to play at USC, hit .369 with six homers, while Hamden’s Michael Ferrett, who plays at Southern Connecticut State, hit .341.
The pitching staff was led by Vohra, Milford’s Matt Wooton of Eastern Connecticut State (5-0, 0.90 ERA) and Branford’s Eddie Zanor of Wesleyan (1.90 ERA, 43 K’s in 33 innings pitched).
The team was coached by Bryan Santoro, and its owner and general manager is Tim Binkoski. And if the West Haven Sailors name sounds familiar, that’s because it was the name of an old semi-pro team back in the 1930’s and 40’s that used to play exhibition games against major-league teams. Binkoski’s grandfather, Joe, played on that team.